3 Reasons Why This Controversial Kenyan Electoral Commissioner Resigned

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Roselyn Akombe, an outspoken, media savvy commissioner at Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has called it quits. According to a personal statement made available to the press, the commissioner who is one out of seven electoral commissioners, ruled out IEBC’s ability to conduct a credible election on the 26th of October. 

The commissioner’s resignation did not surprise a lot of observers as media reports have earlier suggested that she would resign amid several controversies. She denied the reports. 

Kenya has faced a political crisis since a land mark ruling in September, which ruled that the conduct of the last presidential election was fraught with irregularities and did not adhere to the constitution. Here are 3 likely reasons why Akombe resigned:

1. Partisanship: 

Akombe has been in the eye of the storm. She has had to defend herself against the accusations of collusion with the leading opposition party, the National Super Alliance (NASA) following the release of screenshots of a WhatsApp conversation allegedly between her and Senator James Orengo. She dismissed the accusations as propaganda by the ruling Jubilee party and vowed not to be forced to quit in an interview with Kenya’s Sunday Standard newspaper. 

 “I am not planning to tender my resignation. Now my focus is purely on a credible electoral process that will vindicate us,” she said.  “I have never met the NASA leadership. I have met Tuju (Jubilee Party’s Secretary General). Why is no one talking about my meeting with him? It’s a meeting I can publicly confirm because as far I am concerned, it was in the interest of the electoral process”.  

In her latest statement, she has also accused her fellow commissioners of partisanship, explaining that she could no longer defend their collective positions. 

It has become increasingly difficult to continue attending plenary meetings where Commissioners come ready to vote along partisan lines and not to discuss the merit of issues before them. It has become increasingly difficult to appear on television to defend positions I disagree with in the name of collective responsibility.”

2. Government Intimidation

Akombe made headlines in Kenya, following her detention at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) before being allowed to get on a flight to the United States shortly after the election. According to the immigration, Akombe did not obtain relevant authorisation to travel out of the country. This explanation has failed to score with the chairperson of Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights, Kagwiria Mbogori who said that the IEBC was autonomous. “A commissioner or a worker in a commission does not need clearance from the head of public service,” Kagwiria said.

Akombe also denied accusations that suggested she might be fleeing the country and promised to be back to work on the next stage of the electoral process. She alluded to this in In her latest statement challenging the credibility of the October 26th repeat elections. “Not when Commissioners and staff are intimidated by political actors and protestors and fear for their lives,” she wrote. 

3. Safety and Security and Preparedness: 

Akombe’s latest statement showed a deep concern for the safety of the IEBC field staffers amid various reports of attacks they face in the hands of party supporters. This forced a suspension in the training of IEBC’s presiding officers in parts of Kenya following an attack on a session recently held in Bondo. Akombe, who spoke after the recent attack publicly expressed concerns and promised to relay the accounts to the commission and find a way forward. This position was clearly reechoed in the latest statement explaining her resignation. 

“It broke my heart in the last few days to listen to my staff in the field, majority of whom truly want to do the right thing, express to me their safety and security concerns. I shared detailed reports from staff in four of the Counties most hit by the ongoing protests – Nairobi, Siaya, Kisumu, and Homa Bay – with the hope that this will bring sobriety to our decision making. Instead this was met with more extremist responses from most Commissioners, who are keen to have an election even if it is at the cost of the lives of our staff and voters. It is unacceptable for any party to disrupt, attack and injure our staff in Mumias, Bungoma, Homabay, Siaya, and Kisumu as they did today. These acts must be condemned by all and action taken against the perpetrators.”

She also believes that more time was needed to conduct a credible election. She explained that the IEBC staff are being rushed and are encumbered with legal challenges. She cited that they are just “ getting last minute instructions on changes in technology and electronic transmission of results.” 

The opposition leader, Raila Odinga has since withdrawn from the 26 October repeat presidential election, urging electoral reforms. 

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